Taming the wilful ignorance monster: Scientific uncertainty and climate change

7 November 2013, 1.00 PM - 7 November 2013, 1.00 PM

Experimental Psychology Common Room, 12a Priory Road, Bristol

Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol

Uncertainty forms an integral part of many global risks, from “peak oil” to genetically modified foods to climate change. In many contexts, uncertainty is cited in connection with political arguments against mitigative or corrective action. Using climate change as a case study, I show that a proper understanding of uncertainty should compel action rather than forestall it. Although risk judgments are inherently subjective, an analysis of the role of uncertainty within the climate system yields three mathematical constraints that are robust to a broad range of assumptions and that all suggest that greater uncertainty provides greater impetus for mitigative action. The constraints involve (a) the inevitable positive skew of estimates of climate sensitivity; (b) the inevitably convex damage function, and (c) the inevitably bounded aspect of the carbon budget. Those normative constraints are related to human behaviour and the nature of scientific endeavours. 

The Bristol Decision Making Seminar Series is intended as a platform for researchers from different disciplines interested in decision making (broadly defined). Presenters can talk about ongoing or published work. The seminars are collegial and we encourage you to make them part of your Thursday lunch routine (so bring along your sandwich).  It is our hope that the series will give rise to collaborations, so feel free to stay on after the seminar to discuss with group members.

Directions to the venue (Experimental Psychology Common Room). For queries please email gaurav.malhotra@bristol.ac.uk.

This event is open to all UoB staff and students.

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